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Renewing America's Nuclear Power Partnership for Energy Security and Economic Growth

October 8, 2008 - 4:14pm


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary Bodman

Thank you, Jamie, for that kind introduction. And many thanks as well to Secretary Gutierrez, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and the entire Commerce team for convening this important event.

As always, it's great to be back at the Commerce Department.

As many of you know, I began my time in government service as the Deputy Secretary here, and I hold this Department - its mission, its programs, and especially its people - in the highest esteem. So, being back in this Auditorium feels a bit like coming home.

I thank you all for being here to discuss a central element of our nation's energy strategy: safely and securely expanding civilian nuclear power.

This Summit includes a wide-range of representatives from the nuclear power industry - and related businesses, from utilities, from academia, from government, and from organized labor. And that is precisely as it should be because, to truly address our nation's energy challenges, we need all stakeholders involved.

And, we certainly have challenges before us: rapidly growing global demand for energy, high prices, and an urgent need to produce and use energy in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do not harm our shared environment - or our security.

And, let me also add this: we all have a stake in growing our economy and creating good, well-paying jobs for all Americans.

The way I see it, expanding nuclear power in this country goes to the very intersection of our energy security, our national security and our economic security.

This is serious business, and it demands collective action: we must expand access to safe, emissions-free, low-cost nuclear power in a way that responsibly manages spent fuel and reduces proliferation risks.

To be sure, nuclear power fits into a broader national energy agenda, the components of which I often summarize this way: dramatically improved energy efficiency in all sectors of our economy; an aggressive move to renewable energy - like solar, wind and geothermal - and alternative fuels, especially advanced biofuels; more efficient and environmentally sustainable use of fossil fuels; and advanced nuclear power.

I'm proud of the work we're doing under President Bush's leadership, at the Energy Department and throughout the government, in all these areas.

It is certainly fair to say that any realistic approach to addressing our energy and climate challenges must acknowledge that new nuclear power plants must be built.

And, I would tell you, this is a view shared around the world.

Just last week I was in Vienna and Paris to participate in meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP.

It is very clear that the international community understands that with significant increases in global energy demand and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, civilian nuclear power expansion will occur. Indeed, it is happening now.

Through GNEP, a partnership conceived of and developed by the United States, we now have 25 member nations - and nearly as many observer nations and organizations - focused on shaping the world's nuclear energy future in a way that not only benefits our economies and our environment, but improves our security as well.

GNEP is working to expand civilian nuclear power while reducing the risk of proliferation.

Among other things, we're focused on proper infrastructure development and establishing comprehensive fuel supply and service arrangements, especially with regard to the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

This is an unprecedented initiative that has grown rapidly in only 12 months - and is a testament to the urgency of our shared challenges and opportunities.

I tell you all this to make the point that the world is moving in this direction, and the United States must remain engaged in a leadership position.

But maintaining such a leadership position requires us all to work together to remove the major impediments to getting new, next-generation nuclear plants ordered, sited and eventually built and operational.

I recognize that building new plants is the purview of the private sector - and rightly so. However, I also believe that the federal government has a major role to play, particularly given our strong national interest in producing and using energy in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And let's face it, the constraints are considerable - be they financial or regulatory in nature. There are technical challenges as well, which demand more funding of nuclear science and R&D - from the government and academia as well as the private sector.

Of course, we can't lose sight of the human component.

Our future success will depend heavily on our ability to recruit, educate and train highly technical personnel to work in the nuclear industry - from nuclear scientists and engineers to skilled craftspeople, construction managers, plant operators and maintenance personnel.

In addition, we must take steps to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of domestic nuclear-grade components. Because, in many ways, the nuclear capability of the U.S. has atrophied in the 30 years since the last nuclear plant was ordered.

Consider this: studies have estimated that a single new nuclear power plant requires approximately: 400,000 cubic yards of concrete; 66,000 tons of steel - or, in other words, the same amount used to build the Empire State Building; 44 miles of piping; 300 miles of electric wiring, which is enough to stretch from Boston to Philadelphia; and 130,000 electrical components.

But, the number of qualified suppliers of these materials for nuclear facilities has decreased in the United States since the 1970s. And the truth is, in some cases, we have totally lost our capabilities.

At present, the U.S. does not have the capability domestically to produce the ultra-large forgings (those that exceed 350 tons) necessary make major reactor components, such as reactor pressure vessels.

In fact, we are dependent on one global supplier - Japan Steel Works - with a capacity to produce 5 to 6 ultra-large forgings a year.

Given the projected global demand, Japan Steel Works is expanding its production levels to reach 8 to 9 forgings per year by 2010. That's the reality we face.

Now, I don't mean to paint too pessimistic a picture.

After all, the United States is still a global leader in nuclear power, with more operating nuclear reactors than any other nation - 104 reactors operating in 31 states. But let's not kid ourselves about the challenges here.

And, by the same token, let's embrace the opportunities as well.

If we continue to make the right policy decisions - ones that aggressively support expansion and signal to the market that this nation is moving on a path to more nuclear power - we will not only produce more, clean, safe nuclear power for our citizens and our businesses, but in the process we will provide a substantial boost to suppliers of commodities like concrete and steel, as well as to manufacturers of hundreds of components.

And, we will create new jobs in this country - highly skilled, well-paying ones.

By some estimates, building a new nuclear plant creates, on average, more than 1,400 jobs during construction (with peak employment ranging as high as 2,400 jobs).

The operation of a nuclear plant generates 400 to 700 permanent jobs, and these jobs pay, on average, 36 percent more than average salaries in the local area.

And, of course, the statisticians in the audience would remind us that this is the direct job impact - not counting the thousands of additional, indirect, jobs created in the local area to provide the goods and services necessary to support this work force.

In addition, studies have estimated that the average nuclear plant generates total state and local tax revenue of almost $20 million each year - dollars that benefit schools, roads, and other infrastructure projects. And the average nuclear plant generates federal tax payments of roughly $75 million each year.

So, even beyond the clear benefits to our energy security and environmental health, an expansion of nuclear power offers clear economic opportunities as well.

That is why, under President Bush's leadership, and in partnership with many of you in this room, we continue to take aggressive steps to move toward an energy future in which safe, affordable, emission-free nuclear energy plays an increasingly large role.

We have put programs in place that will allow this nation to achieve that vision, and to put the U.S. back in the nuclear energy game in a leadership position. Indeed, we are already seeing progress in the right direction.

Our focus has been - and continues to be - alleviating the constraints facing nuclear power expansion in this country. And our policies take a broad view.

Among other things, the Department of Energy is making available $2 billion in federal risk insurance for companies building new nuclear power plants, which would cover events beyond the control of the owner, including certain regulatory and litigation-related delays.

We've also announced solicitations for federal loan guarantees - totaling up to $38.5 billion - for advanced clean energy projects that avoid, reduce or sequester emissions of air pollutants or greenhouse gases.

This total includes about $20.5 billion in loan guarantees to encourage the expansion of nuclear power by supporting advanced power reactors and facilities that enrich nuclear fuel more efficiently.

Simply put, by providing the backing of the U.S. government, we are using these guarantees to catalyze new projects and sharing some of the risk with the private sector - by essentially lowering the cost of capital.

At the same time, however, we also must demonstrate to industry that it is indeed possible to navigate the entire regulatory process.

Through the Nuclear Power 2010 program, we are engaged in a cost-shared effort to do just that - to demonstrate the untested federal regulatory and licensing processes for the siting, construction and operation of new nuclear power plants, as well as the completion of the engineering for two advanced, passive reactor designs.

In so doing, we'll allow those utilities that follow through the process to reference this work and to negotiate the process in a substantially shorter period of time.

We are well on our way to meeting our program goals to pave the way for industry to build new advanced light-water reactor nuclear plants in the United States that would begin operation by the middle of the next decade.

Another barrier that we must address is responsibly dealing with used fuel. As many of you are aware, in June, the Department of Energy submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, seeking authorization to build America's first national geological repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The NRC has determined that the Department's application is sufficiently complete to begin a full technical review and licensing proceeding, which will be conducted over the next three to four years.

This important milestone brings the United States one step closer to fulfilling what I view as our responsibility to future generations: to deal with spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste on a permanent - not a temporary - basis.

And, at the same time pursuing new technologies for recycling spent fuel, which have the potential to significantly reduce the volume, thermal output and radiotoxicity of waste requiring permanent, geologic disposal.

This last point is crucial.

Through programs like the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative and the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative, the Energy Department and our National Laboratories are guiding the research and development activities necessary to establish the viability of next-generation nuclear energy systems - like high temperature gas reactors - and to demonstrate the technical know-how to recycle nuclear fuel safely and securely.

Our research activities, conducted in collaboration with academia and industry, are relevant and meaningful, focused on sustainable, next-generation nuclear power.

And, as I mentioned at the outset, we continue to work with our international partners - through GNEP, the Generation IV International Forum, and other mechanisms - to collaboratively advance this research agenda.

I'm pleased to say that we are already starting to see results from these and so many other efforts.

With regard to risk insurance, so far we've received the first full application for a Conditional Agreement in addition to three Notices of Intent from companies interested in pursuing Conditional Agreements - the first step in the process.

We estimate that the first Conditional Agreement could be signed as early as December, with the first Standby Support Contract signing anticipated in late 2010.

In addition, we've received loan guarantee applications covering 14 reactor projects (including 21 reactors total), as well as two applications for advanced enrichment facilities. I would just note that the guarantee amount for these 16 projects could range as high as $126 billion, far in excess of the $20.5 billion of authority provided by Congress.

And perhaps most encouraging, in about a year's time, 16 applications for Combined Operating Licenses for up to 25 new nuclear reactors have been filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission - 5 were submitted within the last month alone.

So, we are most certainly seeing progress in the right direction. But sustained progress to usher in a resurgence of civilian nuclear power will continue to demand realistic action.

We need a supportive policy environment from the federal government, including much-needed support from Congress. We must be actively engaged with the international community. We must promote economic growth, manufacturing opportunities, and trade opportunities for American companies. We need the active involvement of organized labor and academia. And we need continued leadership and investment from industry and our utilities.

That sounds like a tall order. And, frankly, it is. But everyone in the room understands that we all have a stake in this. And I firmly believe that together, we will ensure that nuclear power plays a major role in our national effort to improve our energy security in an environmentally sustainable way.

I thank you for being a part of that effort and for your time today.

Location: U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Media contact(s): Kristin Brown, (202) 586-4940